CDOT backs away from Silverthorne interchange project |

CDOT backs away from Silverthorne interchange project

Caddie Nath
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

BRECKENRIDGE – A project to improve the Interstate-70/Silverthorne interchange in the works for the last several months was put on hold as $60 million is diverted to widening the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs over the next two years.

“It’s a financial problem at this point in time,” CDOT engineer Peter Kozinski said. “The focus for us for the next year-and-a-half to two years is going to be the Twin Tunnels.”

Colorado Department of Transportation officials told the Summit Board of County Commissioners Tuesday they would likely return to plans for an improved interchange in Silverthorne in two years, after completing the project to widen the eastbound bore of the Twin Tunnels.

“All of the work we’ve done to date is not for nothing,” Kozinski said. “We have a fantastic springboard so when we pick this back up we can deliver a fantastic (solution) to that interchange.”

But Town of Silverthorne officials weren’t happy with the project being put on hold.

“Our council’s very concerned that this project’s been shelved,” Silverthorne town manager Kevin Batchelder told CDOT officials at a meeting Tuesday. “This went forward as a pilot project for CDOT, one of the early projects identified … so we can show the world what we can do on the I-70 corridor. We’re just concerned this is going to fall down the priority list.”

CDOT officials said it also made sense to wait as the area around the interchange is still in transition with the planned construction of a new Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse.

The interchange reconstruction was in the early design stages, though officials knew they had no sources of funding readily available to put plans into action. They moved forward with the design process, working with stakeholders and the public, saying it would be ideal to have a “shovel-ready” project waiting when the money did come along. But Tuesday, county officials noted the shifting business and political landscape around the interchange might mean the project selected might not still be the preferred option when funding finally becomes available.

“By the time we’re ready to build it, there (could be) new business owners and new county commissioners and new people at CDOT,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “So you run the risk of saying, ‘this is the best solution,’ and then different personalities and factors come into play and it doesn’t work.”

While the interchange improvement project is on hold for now, it might be a trade-off for plans to help reduce the steep grade of the westbound on-ramp, which has been a problem for drivers, CDOT officials said.

“We’re going to keep it on simmer,” Kozinski said. “One of our biggest problems is that westbound ramp. As part of this packaging for putting it on the back burner, it sounds like there might be some relatively cheap projects for that problem.”

CDOT was in the midst of the evaluation phase on the Silverthorne interchange improvement. Officials held a public meeting this summer to collect feedback on several possible alternatives for the project.

The interchange is already a sticky area where traffic tends to get backed up. The problem is expected to worsen over the next several years to the point where it could potentially interfere with traffic flows on the interstate, according to a recent report.

But attention shifted east recently, after a team of experts was convened to look into possible solutions for the Twin Tunnels – where heavy eastbound traffic tends to get choked off on peak Sunday afternoons as skiers and tourists make the trek back to Denver. The expert panel recommended widening the tunnel to accommodate three lanes of traffic, and CDOT was able to secure funding to begin evaluations and then work on the project. It could be complete as early as October of 2013, transportation officials said Tuesday.

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